CHICAGO – Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner on Thursday laid out the first specific cost-cutting proposals of his candidacy, saying Illinois could save hundreds of millions of dollars, including by selling most of its airplanes, merging the comptroller's and treasurer's offices and reforming the agency that oversees state property and purchasing.
The Winnetka businessman, who blasted Gov. Pat Quinn's administration for everything from flying in prairie chickens from Kansas – he had a crate of domestic chickens as a prop – to spending more than $600,000 on copper-plated doors at the state Capitol, has yet to detail a budget plan, including how he would make up an estimated $1.8 billion in lost revenue if a temporary income-tax increase is allowed to expire in January.
Rauner has been sharply criticized by Quinn and other Democrats for not providing details for how he'd fix the state's financial problems.
But the cost-cutting proposals are "a major, major first step" in fixing the state's budget problem, Rauner told reporters at a news conference, pledging to reveal more proposals in the next few weeks for "dramatic reforms in the structure of our government," including in spending, job creation, tax structure and education.
He said the state could save more than $800 million by selling most of the state's planes, moving lawmakers from a pension to a 401(k), cutting budgets of constitutional offices and the General Assembly by 10 percent, merging the comptroller's and treasurer's offices, reforming the agency that oversees purchasing and state property, and reforming how Medicaid recipients are verified.
Rauner, a multimillionaire, said he mostly would pay to fly himself for state business, and would not take a salary or a pension, drawing a sharp rebuke from Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat.
"His proposal is saying 'I've got enough money to be the governor, so why should we let anybody else be the governor?'" Cullerton said after an unrelated event in Chicago.
The Quinn campaign called Rauner's proposals "a giant prank on the public meant to hide the absence of any real plan to deal with the massive structural challenges facing Illinois."
"What Rauner released today is a collection of newspaper clippings and lesser versions of policies Gov. Quinn already has embraced," Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in a written statement.
Quinn's campaign said, for example, that the governor's office budget has already been cut by more than 25 percent, and that Quinn has called on other constitutional officers to do the same.
Some of Rauner's criticism was aimed at a Department of Natural Resources program that spent thousands of dollars to import prairie chickens from Kansas by plane. His campaign said a crate with three domestic hens was meant to symbolize prairie chickens, and Rauner said they were "a clear visualization of the fundamental problem" of out-of-control spending and irresponsible decision making.
The DNR has said that all of the money spent to fly 91 prairie chickens, an endangered species in Illinois, to a habitat preserve near Effingham was earmarked specifically for wildlife projects, was not tax money and could not be used for other state programs. Most of the project funding came from federal grants, DNR officials have said.
Illinois' top Republican leaders said Rauner's plan was headed in the right direction by identifying some areas that could be cut.
"It gets people's attention to say there's a lot we can do," Senate Leader Christine Radogno said. "There's plenty we can do in state government to make it cost a lot less money for the taxpayers."
Quinn picked up the endorsement Thursday from several Chicago-area clergy and community leaders, including activist priest Michael Pfleger.